Stories and Statistics

When we started researching The Disposable Visionary, we discovered personal stories  of people who dared to challenge the status quo and were abruptly fired.  It doesn’t take long when people are challenged and feel uncomfortable.  Historical profiles include J.C. Penney, Billy Mitchell (court-marshaled when he showed Congress the offensive potential of an official air force), David Neeleman (founder of Jet Blue, but fired from Southwest Airlines), John Lassiter and Tim Burton (both fired by Disney, and later rehired — Burton as a director and Lassiter as the Chief of Pixar),  Brownie Wise (the creator of home parties for Tupperware), and many others in sports, education, entertainment as well as industry.

Interestingly, even companies such as Disney and Southwest Airlines, which pride themselves on innovation, have fired visionaries who were ahead of their time and exceeded management’s ability to grasp what they could bring.  (Read about Lassiter, Burton and Neeleman)

And the numbers continue to show that organizations — even those who say they seek change — have a low tolerance for new ideas.

1) They say the need is there:

  • In The War for Talent, Ed Michael notes that 99% of the companies participating in a year 2000 McKinsey survey said their managerial talent pools needed to be stronger.
  • One of the major frustrations of Human Resource and executives is finding employees who are passionate and able to work independently with a focus to deliver what matters
  • In fact, 40% of companies report the loss of key personnel as a top concern (SHRM)
  • HR professionals’ most important issue for 2015 was culture and engagement (Deloitte)
  • Companies that increase and retain the number of talented managers and double the rate of engaged employees achieve an average of 147% higher earnings per share than their competitors (Gallup)

2) But keeping impact-potential employees seems to be difficult, usually because of resistant cultures and the inability to accept new ideas:

  • Various studies show that over 60% of executives placed through executive placement firms fail to survive longer than eighteen months in their new jobs
  • In surveying employees specifically hired to lead or act as change agents, 80% had been fired (DV survey). When asked why (multiple answers accepted):
    • 42% ran in to political problems
    • 34% ran into power plays
    • 21% stood up for their department or the work of other employees
  • In that same survey, 98% said they had been in jobs where they needed or wanted to leave, with the top reasons being (multiple answers accepted):
    • 51% faced a stifling political environment
    • 48% felt management said one thing, but did another
    • 34% found management resisted change and new ideas
  • When asked if they could accomplish what they were hired to do,(which responded specified as making changes for greater effectiveness and productivity, start a new business unit, build staff, create new products, find new ways to serve customers and increase the value of the company, they said they faced internal obstacles including:
    • 64% overwhelming politics and power plays
    • 45% the company / boss was not open to change, new ideas or new ways of thinking
    • 40% simply lacked any management support for change
    • 30% lacked the resources to achieve what they were hired for.

3) And political acuity and underperformance  are  too often rewarded and actually encouraged

  • In a study of corporate performance ratings, companies gave the lowest job performance ratings to employees who had strong vision and ideas but low political skills — those most likely to rock the boat
  • They gave highest performance ratings to those who had any political skills – whether they had any contribution of ideas or vision or not (apparently appreciating employees who could stay under the radar or who had the insight to minimize any disruption of the status quo). (Journal of Organizational Behavior/Blickle et al.)
  • Maybe that’s why 53% of employees say that performance reviews don’t motivate them to work harder (Globoforce)

4) ) Which all leads to a lack of passion, engagement and innovation as well as employees recognizing that they are constrained by a performance-hindering  and personally-threatening  political environment.  Is it any wonder that:

  • Only 13% of employees are actively engaged in moving their company forward (Gallup)
  • 17- 25% feel their work can actually make a difference to advance the company’s mission (Energy Project and others)
  • Less than 50% of all employees feel they can trust management with what they say (Modern Survey)
  • Change agents continue to push for change, recognizing that it may continue to cost them — 76% agreeing to the statement, “I don’t play political games, even at my own risk.” (DV)


The problem isn’t talent.  It’s environments and leadership resistance to change.  It’s a cancer, often undetected or intentionally ignored and many times powerfully encouraged that puts the status quo and personal protection over the value and future of an organization.  But it is possible to change this playing field.  It is a combination of personal integrity and intelligent persistence by visionaries and an openness and commitment by leadership to encourage visionaries,  and to identify  and purge the internal obstacles to innovation.  This is the mission behind The Disposable Visionary.


Want to rock the boat without getting fired?